The New Topographers presented familiar objects of the American landscape in a reductivist style. The presentation was intentionally spare, as were the titles, and they assembled the photos so as to encourage the viewer to see the works as document rather than art. Some of the photographers abandoned the traditional placement of the horizon in the middle of the frame and occasionally a horizon was completely nonexistent, emphasising confinement in landscapes that were commonly represented as boundless. Jenkins summed up the intent of the method of presentation when he said that the exhibition was "anthropological rather than critical, scientific rather than artistic".
Robert Adams is perhaps the most well known of all the New Topographers, and the one artist whose work best encapsulated the whole message of ecological conservation and the difficult relationship between humans and the natural environment.
Adams' work on the ecological theme of the New Topographers message was very powerful. Photographs such as those of individual trees stranded amongst signs of development (roads, agriculture etc.) created an oppressive atmosphere and communicated that this modern development has the force of an invasion.
This decidedly more playful and affectionate view of the changing landscape of America can also be seen in his work displaying everyday small-town subject matter, such as truck stops, parking lots and seemingly homogeneous main streets that exhibit stereotypical elements that belie the idiosyncrasies in the details.
The New Topographers work bridged the gap between documentary photography and the conceptual art of the sixties and seventies. Their photographs communicated the confusing mixture of beauty and ugliness in the built environment and the pressures placed on nature in urban expansion, which developed into a style that was widely influential. While their maxims of absolute objectivity and rejection of beauty were deceptive, they did follow through on their expressed intention to represent America in a more honest and pragmatic manner and encourage a conservational examination of the relationship between humans and nature.
By Kieran Gosney
Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Stephen Shore et al, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, 1975
Dennis, Kelly, Landscape and the West: Irony and Critique in New Topographic Photography, University of Connecticut, USA, April 2005